Warning: some photos are confronting!
I've started this blog about 6 times now… mainly because I feel that I sound heartless when I write about it. Going to a place like Auschwitz I (and Auschwitz II-Birkenau), I personally found it incredibly hard to comprehend almost any number that we were told about. I've spoken to a number of people since visiting it, and have received mixed reactions. Some were crying the whole time, some felt nothing, and others only comprehending small parts. I unfortunately, don't know how to explain mine - though I would probably fall into the category of between the last two. I spent a lot of my time there telling myself to 'Please Understand This!', but I couldn't… the numbers of the horrific things that were done, the people killed, the 'reasons' or simply the walls of photos of the people who were sent there - they were all just too large to comprehend. So, while reading this, I hope you don't feel I am completely without emotion for this, because that's not true, but it did really take me a few days to be able to form an image in my mind of what sort of numbers they were talking about.
I had been told before I went to try and put myself in the shoes of those who were there all those years ago. That was easier said than done. Stepping off the bus in Auschwitz, it was a warm and sunny day, we were surrounded by green trees, and tourists everywhere… It's another few hundred metres around a corner before you see the gates and the infamous words above 'Arbeit Macht Frei' - "Work will set you free", before you walk into the world were so much death happened.
Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and the numbers she quoted were incomprehensibly big. Over 1.4 million people murdered at this site - just for being Jewish, or one of the other 'minorities' that the Nazi's thought were inferior. Gypsies, Homosexuals, Political prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, Criminals, Anti-Socials, etc. The two hour tour took us everywhere and showed us everything - including buildings, photos, personal items and even ashes of victims.
We came to a room that we weren't allowed to take photos in… one that was about 20m long, a glass wall stretching on one side and fairly dark except for the one window at the end of the room, and the lights shining in the cabinet showing the matted hair of 40,000 women. Piles of it, brown and dull from age just sitting there. How do you comprehend the horrific state of it? Of what would make someone do this to another human being? It was only a few days after visiting this room that I compared the numbers to that of half a full football stadium - there would be so many you couldn't even see distinguish faces if they were all in front of you. Just for being Jewish women who couldn't work to stay alive, shaving their heads before sending them off to the gas chambers, where they thought they were able to take a shower.
Room after room of one type of object - metal cups, glasses, suitcases, women's shoes, men's shaving brushes. Thousands upon thousands of items, each belonging to someone at one time. The names on the suitcases, so the owner could find it after he/she got off a train, after he/she had a shower - one they would never come out of. The two rooms I actually did get a wave of comprehensibility about were the children's shoes, tiny little feet once walked in them, towards what they had been told would be a better life. And a cabinet full of prosthetics and mobility devises… wheelchairs, limbs, crutches, back braces… knowing that those people wouldn't have even been given a second look to see if they were able to 'work' - rather were just sent off to their death.
After only about 70 years from when this concentration camp was in operation, we as visitors, could never really know what it was like to have been there. The freezing temperatures, the 6 or more people sharing your wooden-plank bed. The hope that you would see your husband, wife, father, mother, child again… we just have to make sure nothing like that were to ever happen again.